24. In Down’s End
“Master Bead, could there really be a new lord in Inter Lucus?”
Isen worked alongside Bead Deepwater on the pier in Down’s End, receiving lumber passed to them by Osulf and Headby. Morning Glory had successfully towed its cargo home.
The older man snorted. “Can stones float? I heard a man say once that he saw a stone boat on East Lake, way up north by castle Argentum Cadit. Nobody believed him. This was in The Windmill, a tavern that burned down a few years back. Ya know how it is—end o’ the day, we’d all had a few, and we were tellin’ stories. This traveler said he’d seen a boat made out o’ rock. He was from Cippenham, and someone said ‘but I been to Cippenham n’ I ain’t seen no stone boats,’ n’ the traveler says course not; the stone boat was up north. We all laughed. But then he pulls out this little rock, grayish white thing, and asks for a bowl of water. He put it in the water and, by the gods, it floated.”
“It’s possible, then, is that what you mean?” Isen and Master Deepwater kept stacking planks as they talked.
“Possible? I saw a rock as big as my thumb float. If ya had the same kind o’ rock but thousands of times bigger, then maybe a mason could carve a boat. But it’s more likely the traveler was jus’ foolin’ with us. Now, Inter Lucus is a real castle. Lords lived there for hundreds o’ years, n’ gods lived there ’fore that. But today it’s a ruin. Seen it myself. Maybe it’s possible some wood daughter got her prayers answered, but my guess is she’s foolin’ with folk.”
“How would we know?”
Bead grunted, straining with a particularly heavy plank. “Magic, o’ course. A real lord will make Inter Lucus do magic.”
“The woodman’s friend said he saw magic.”
“People see all kinds o’ things. Some real n’ some not. If there’s a real lord in Inter Lucus, we’ll know soon enough.”
“You wouldn’t go see for yourself?”
“Not if I had something better t’ do. Like fishin’ and feedin’ my family. A young man like you, now, ya might be free . . . By the gods! Isen, that’s not a bad notion. Don’t deny it. I see it in your eyes.
“If there is a new lord—mind, I’m not sayin’ that’s likely—but if there is, who knows what chances there might be? Senerham and Inter Lucus, the village I mean, might become real towns. If ya was to set up shop, ya might be the first glassman between the lakes. Might be rich new houses, n’ rich folk want fancy glass windows n’ bowls n’ wine goblets. Not a bad notion at all, Isen. Keep quiet now, n’ we’ll talk in a bit.”
Master Deepwater turned his attention to a newcomer to the scene. Isen recognized Sighard Rihtman, a builder and master carpenter in Down’s End. News of a delivery of lumber would find him quickly. Rihtman greeted Bead Deepwater as if he was an old friend, and he drew the fisherman away from the growing stack of lumber in order to negotiate in private. Apparently, Master Rihtman could not come to terms with Deepwater as quickly as he would have liked; the two men were still dickering when two others of the carpenter guild joined them, much to Rihtman’s displeasure.
Osulf and Headby climbed from Morning Glory onto the pier when the lumber had been stacked. The raw logs were left floating in the gentle current of the Betlicéa, the boom tied to an upstream piling near Morning Glory. Osulf tilted his head toward the three would-be buyers and his father. “It’s a pleasure, don’t ya think, t’ watch good men keep each other honest?” Isen joined Headby and Osulf in laughter, but quietly so the would-be buyers wouldn’t hear.
At supper Bead happily reported the handsome profits of the day. Sighard Rihtman bought the cut lumber for twice the amount Bead had paid for the day’s entire cargo, and one of the other buyers paid half that for the raw logs. Osulf and Headby thumped the table gleefully and Bebba beamed a flushed face at her family. Master Deepwater raised a cup of beer: “To Isen n’ good luck! What a day!” The other Deepwaters joined him, “To Isen! To good luck!”
After a deep pull of his beer, Bead said, “Aye, what a day. Perfect wind goin’ n’ not bad comin’ back. Just a bit west o’ north n’ steady all day. Lumbermen turn up right away n’ eager to sell, both logs n’ dried lumber. Builders on this side jus’ as eager to buy or even more. The gods blessed us t’day!”
Headby wiped foam from his lips. “Which gods, Da? The old god the priests preach or the castle gods?”
“Don’t matter t’ me,” his father answered. In Down’s End the rule is a man can have new gods or old god. Jus’ sayin’ I know when I been blessed. I’ve reason t’ be thankful.”
Headby inclined his head, acceding to Bead’s wisdom. The Deepwaters and their guest all tended their beers.
“Now, Isen. The thing we talked about.” Osulf and Headby shot questioning looks at each other; they hadn’t heard Bead and Isen’s conversation on the pier.
“I have not changed my opinion. Seems to me, it’s likely this girl has no more got a new lord than Bebba n’ me will get another child. Not likely at all, not at all. But it’s possible. So if ya want t’ go look . . . well, I say, why not? If there is a new lord, things will change between the lakes. A skilled man might find a chance.
“So here’s what I say. Why don’t we take Isen across tomorrow? He earned a share o’ today’s profit. So we give ’im passage as part o’ his pay. N’ we put a few coins in his purse.”
Osulf and Headby nodded vigorously. “That’s good, Da.” But Bebba Deepwater said, “Ah, Bead, the young man will need proper clothes. Go to the cloth sellers’ street tomorrow n’ buy ’im a new tunic n’ breeches. Take ’im across the day after.” Now Osulf and Headby thumped the table to signal agreement with their mother.
Bead scratched his beard. “All right, then. New clothes. In fairness, Isen, that means ya get less coin.”
“Master Deepwater, you are more than fair; you are generous. Thank you very much!”
“A moment!” interjected Bead. “I will not visit the cloth sellers tomorrow.” He leaned close to his wife and kissed her cheek. “My lady fair can do that, n’ my boys n’ I will do what we do. The day after we’ll take Isen across.”
The day after brought foul weather. All the Deepwaters assured Isen that they had fished the lake in worse weather, much worse, but these encouragements did not keep his heart from pounding or loosen his death grip on the gunwale near the back of the boat where he sat close to Bead. Rain pelted them first from one direction and then another as the wind shifted quarters. Several times the boat dipped so far to one side or the other that Isen feared they would capsize. Osulf and Headby seemed to be constantly changing the set of the sail. Bead managed the tiller with both hands and explained that Morning Glory’s small sail was an advantage in such weather, because his sons could adjust it so quickly. Isen could only nod and hold on.
At last Morning Glory neared the east shore. The rain almost stopped, but the wind shifted round to the east, so Osulf and Headby furled the sail, positioned oars between pegs on the gunwales, and rowed to shore. The fishing boat touched bottom five wet yards from a gravelly beach.
“As close as we can get,” said Bead. “Good luck to ya, boy.”
Isen lowered himself into the knee-deep water, surprisingly cold for a summer’s day. After the anxiety of the crossing, the relief of solid ground underfoot outweighed the discomfort of rain and cold. “Thank you again, Master Deepwater. If I ever get established, I hope you come to see me.”
“Aye. That we will,” said the fisherman.
Headby picked up a cloth bundle bound with cords and flung it to Isen. Inside the bundle Isen had packed a few items from his old hovel, including the rosewood box, his money, and the new clothes Bebba had purchased with his pay from the lumber venture. Isen caught the bundle without letting it fall in the water.
“Give us a push, boy.”
“Aye, sir! Just a moment!” Isen hurried to shore, deposited his belongings, and splashed back to push Morning Glory into deeper water. The Deepwater brothers shipped their oars and unfurled the sail. Within minutes the east wind had pushed them beyond earshot. Isen waved a last farewell.
Copyright © 2012 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.